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With 15-16 sponsors in its kitty, Sony Pictures Sports Networks has high expectations from the India tour of Australia, which commenced last week. The series is being aired live on Sony Ten 1, Sony Ten 3, and Sony Six channels.
This is the first international cricket series for Virat Kohli’s team India after a gap of almost nine months and comprises three ODIs, three T20Is and four test matches. As per the schedule released by Cricket Australia, Sydney and Canberra will host the opening ODIs and T20Is at the Sydney Cricket Ground and Canberra’s Manuka Oval. Rajesh Kaul, Chief Revenue Officer, Distribution and Head – Sports Business, Sony Pictures Networks India shares his expectations on the ad revenue and subscription revenue front
Edited excerpts:

Q] This year has been an exception for every business, including broadcasters, because of the COVID impact. What are your expectations from this series in terms of ad revenue?
We have witnessed a huge spike in the viewership for sporting events and even for the non-India series post lockdown and we definitely expect the same trend to continue for the India-Australia series as well. The buzz around the series is huge and we are going all out to promote the series on our network, outside the network, on regional channels, on Print and Digital. Also, the series is coming after a break of nine months. I expect that this is going to be big in terms of viewership and much higher than what we saw last time.
We also got a huge response from advertisers and sponsors who we have on board for the series for both digital (SonyLIV) and linear channels. This series is going to be far better than what we anticipated both in terms of viewership and ad revenues. Apart from the advertisers and sponsorship, we are also seeing a spike in our subscription business as people have to now choose channels they prefer to watch. The actual impact will be felt only after 10-15 days into the series but the initial trends have been very positive. We do hope that by the end of the series we should be up by 15-20%.

Q] During the lockdown, digital consumption increased manifold. Do you think it will have an impact on TV viewership?
Indeed digital consumption has gone up during lockdown. However, we have not seen a similar trend in sports. The genre has not been impacted yet. Yes, the overall viewership is going up on digital and that is bound to happen in the coming years, but India is a vast country and has a majority of single TV households. Thus, especially for cricket which is mostly a family viewing, we don’t expect that it will have any impact on TV viewership. For instance, we saw a 200% increase in viewership even for a non-India series – the West Indies tour of England in July and Pakistan tour of England in August. The audience might be consuming a lot of digital content but TV viewership has increased 200%. Digital numbers will continue to grow, but TV numbers too are bound to increase.

Q] What kind of programming has been planned for the series this year?
That was the biggest challenge for us because of the COVID restrictions. But we went on, following all safety precautions while doing the shoots. Some of the content has already started airing on our channels and that includes the best of India-Australia archival content. But during the series we will have our flagship show, ‘Extraaa Innings’ that will feature legends like Glenn McGrath, Sanjay Manjrekar, Virender Sehwag and many more. While we will have live feed coming from Australia, we are also creating English feed as well. We are ensuring that we provide the best coverage possible to our audience. Also, this is the series where the crowd will be there in the stadium after nine months and hence the look and feel of the series is going to be different.

Q] Will timings this year not be an issue since a lot of people are still working from home?
For this series, all the ODIs, T20s and test matches will be aired on India’s time. The day and night matches will start in the morning and T20 will start in afternoon, which will be excellent timing. Since people are still working from home, it will work in favour for everybody. It will be a win-win for everyone for all the stakeholders, including advertisers.

Q] How do you see the sports genre growing this year?
Not many sporting events happened in the initial part of the year. Some of the events got postponed, including the Olympics. But now everything is coming back to normal. In such difficult times, people want to enjoy live sports. Even for sports events that didn’t feature India, we saw a huge viewership. Now the crowd will also start coming back to the stadium with this series and this in turn will help in the overall growth of the sports genre. I expect to see a big growth for the genre in the coming years.

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Tags : interview sony cricket Sonam Saini Rajesh Kaul